Wearside Echoes: Royal cheer in the Swinging Sixties

Queen Mother visits the Red Cross headquarters in Sunderland in June1964
Queen Mother visits the Red Cross headquarters in Sunderland in June1964
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TODAY we continue our Diamond Jubilee celebrations with a look at Royal visits to Sunderland in the 1960s.

CHEERS and sunshine followed the Queen Mother on a tour of Sunderland in June 1964.

Her Majesty was in town to open a £250,000 extension to Sunderland Central Library, Museum and Art Gallery, and told guests at the ceremony:

“I have been greatly looking forward to coming to Sunderland. It is always a pleasure to return to County Durham, where I have so many family associations.”

The Queen Mother also revealed she still “remembered well” the time her husband, then the Duke of York, had driven a silver rivet into Wearmouth Bridge to mark its opening in 1929.

“I am, therefore, particularly pleased to open another great enterprise undertaken on behalf of the people of this town,” she added.

HRH arrived in Sunderland – her first visit to the town in 21 years – by Royal train, alighting at Monkwearmouth Station to deafening cheers and applause from well-wishers.

“She waved a greeting to the crowd of several hundred, mainly housewives and children, who lined the roadway opposite the station.” reported the Echo.

More on-lookers crowded her route to the Central Library, with dozens jostling for space at the junction of Fawcett Street and Borough Road – just feet from the entrance to the building.

After waving and smiling at the crowd, HRH took a Royal salute near the foot of the library steps, before inspecting a guard of honour.

“As she moved up the lines of soldiers, she stopped from time to time to chat to one of them. Afterwards she returned to the steps, where a crowd of civic leaders awaited,” said the Echo.

“Clapping punctuated the inspection, and there was more cheering as Her Majesty ascended the steps into the library. She paused at the top to wave to the still cheering crowd.”

The Queen Mother inspected several show cases, including one containing silver from the 1780-1840 period, during a tour of the museum, before unveiling a plaque marking her visit.

“I hope this building will become a focal point in the life of the community. I have much pleasure in declaring open the Central Library, Museum and Art Gallery,” she said.

A visit to Sunderland YMCA followed. Thousands of people lined Toward Road to catch a glimpse of the Royal visitor, while women in “gaily coloured hats” leaned out of windows.

She later visited St Peter’s at Monkwearmouth, as well as the headquarters of the Sunderland branch of the British Red Cross in Grange Crescent, before heading back to the station.

“It was a Royal day for Wearside. Even the weather welcomed the Royal visitor,” concluded the Echo.

** Look out for a new Royal Retro book, to be published in July. Twitter: @WearsideEchoes

Sidebar: Royal crowds

A WARM and stirring welcome was on the cards for the Duke of Edinburgh when he toured Wearside in July 1963.

The Royal visit was organised as part of ‘Productivity Year 1963’ – and designed to give the Royal visitor the chance to see at first hand Sunderland’s contribution to industry.

Before touring two shipyards and a glassworks, Prince Philip laid the foundation at the new £43,000 Royal Naval Association headquarters in Roker Avenue.

“Have you enough money to pay for it?” enquired HRH as he was about to lay the stone. “I think so,” came the reply from committee man Walter Smith – prompting a Royal laugh.

Sidebar: Royal threat

A KIDNAP threat left Prince Philip much amused during a visit to Wearside in March 1964.

Sunderland Police – re-enforced by a 100-strong contingent from Durham County – kept close watch over the Duke during his tour of the town.

“A warning of the kidnap attempt was sent in an anonymous letter to the Echo,” revealed the paper. “It was written on Student Union paper and immediately handed over to the police.”

The Duke’s visit to Sunderland Technical College, where he opened new extensions, went off without a hitch however.

“HRH was apparently so amused that he asked for a copy of Sunderland Echo, in which the kidnap threat was detailed, to be delivered to him at the Roker Hotel,” reported the paper.